January 13, 2016
“I got here as soon as I could.” Pulling the scarf from my neck, shedding my coat as I hurried down the hall, heart pounding, panic welling suddenly through the pain I was already in, as the ghosts of old fears suddenly haunted me again.
“He’s been in there for three days. Hasn’t eaten. Isn’t answering his phone.”
“I know.” I’d tried to call the second I’d heard. I’d left a voice mail that probably didn’t sound like much since all it was was the sound of me trying not to cry, but holding back from crying meant I couldn’t speak, either. “But he’s alive?”
“It’s that or a ghost is changing what song is playing.” I could hear the strains of a live version of “Hallo Spaceboy” through the door.
Carynne looked tired, like she hadn’t slept for three days, either. I hugged her. “On the first day I could hear him crying sometimes, but not since.”
“I’m a wreck, too,” I said. “I can’t even explain why.”
She patted me on the shoulder. “You’ll be all right.”
Will I, though? Nothing’s the same now. It’s like that whenever someone so significant to your life dies. The whole universe around you changes. And this wasn’t even someone I knew personally.
Carynne left me and I knocked on the door. “Zig?”
No answer, but I could hear some rustling.
“Zig, it’s me. Can I come in?”
Still no answer. I wondered if he had gotten hold of some prescription meds he wasn’t supposed to have or what.
I had been crying off and on ever since hearing about Bowie’s death. I simply wasn’t prepared for how strong I felt about it. I hadn’t realized what a large part of my understanding about what it means to be a rock musician, a creative person of any kind, stemmed from his existence.
And now he was gone. I banged on the door, feeling like tragedy is a contagion sometimes, like one bad thing begets another, and I’d be damned if the universe was going to take both Ziggy Stardust and my own Ziggy away. “Ziggy! You’re freaking me out!” I started to cry and yell and I think I even said the thing about Ziggy & Ziggy and the universe. And who knows what else, but I guess something got through.
He opened the door a crack and it opened wider because I was slumped against it by that time and I half-fell into the room, blind from tears and grief.
But I could hear his voice. Ziggy’s, I mean. My Ziggy’s. “It’s okay, Daron. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” He had turned off the music and I could hear him clearly.
He helped me to my feet and wiped my eyes with the silk sleeves of the kimono he was wearing and I blinked and looked around the room. At first all I could make out was that there were blobs of light all around and then as my vision cleared I saw what he had been doing for three days.
He’d been making tiny paper lanterns with David Bowie’s face on them, and stringing the room with all kinds of lights. Some of them must have been strands of Christmas lights unwound, while others were hanging from threads from the ceiling. They must have had LEDs in them of some kind.
On the radiator cover by the windowsill was an altar. A shrine. Tall glass tubes of saint candles lined it, two or three of them flickering, already lit. Hung in the window itself was a poster of Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King.
I swallowed, trying to get my voice back. I managed to croak out, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Ziggy took my hands. “He’s not gone. He’ll never be gone. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Saints can’t be canonized until after their ascension.”
He pulled me deeper into the room, until I was surrounded by the lights.
“Have you been listening to the new album?”
“Pretty much nonstop,” I admitted. “Since the day it came out, I mean.” Which was only a few days before his death, but still, I felt it was important to be specific.
“He knew he was dying. He said goodbye the best way he knew how. He turned his death into a work of art for a reason. To give us this message.”
“What message?” I was skeptical. When Ziggy went hypomanic he sometimes heard voices or got…interesting…notions.
“That art is the only way to live forever. To live true. That’s what his message always was. The reason he was always changing. The reason his art never stood still, wasn’t because art is ephemeral. It’s because art is timeless. He’s left us an entire legacy to listen to and fight over and argue about. Forever. Neither of us knew David Bowie the man. We only knew David Bowie the artist, the idea, the concept of him. AND A CONCEPT CANNOT DIE.”
I felt his fingers brush my cheek. All the little lights were reflected in his eyes which weren’t overly dilated. He looked tired, but not like he did after a three-day long manic episode. He looked as beautiful as ever. And sane. “That…makes sense.”
“He’ll still be there when we need him. Light a candle with me and the pain will go away. Come on.” He led me to the altar, put a box of extra long matches in my hand. Each candle had a different picture of Bowie on it. I chose the one from the cover of Aladdin Sane. I lit it and got down on my knees.
“Do we pray now?” I whispered to Ziggy.
“No. Now we sing.”
There was exactly one song that was appropriate for that moment. You know the one. I only made it through the first verse and one time through the chorus but that was enough. He was right. The pain of loss lifted. My lungs felt full for the first time in days. My voice was shot to hell from crying but it didn’t matter. We sang together and slipped instinctively into our old harmony without trying.
Music is magic. Music is the human spirit. It comes right out through our mouths when we sing. It flows through our fingers when we beat drums or pluck strings. The vibrating string is at the core of the universe, what makes everything alive. I’ve known that to be the truth since the last day of 1989.
We are alive, and when we are not, there will still be songs. Ziggy’s right. It’s okay. As long as there is someone alive to sing the songs, it will be okay.